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The Napoleon Series > Military Information > Organization, Strategy & Tactics

History and Organisation of the Dutch 8th Militia Battalion: Quatre Bras and the March to Waterloo (16 - 17 June 1815)

By Marco Bijl


Editor's Note: This article is first appeared on the Dutch 8th Militia website and is used with the author's permission.

Author's Note: This article is based on research in primary sources only. All information is coming directly from archives, libraries and museums in the Netherlands and Belgium. Numbers between ( ) brackets are referring to numbers in the bibliography. The author has a copy of all documents mentioned in the text.

16 June: The Battle of Quatre Bras

The account below is only for the 8th Militia, the rest of Van Van Bijlandt's Brigade was occupied elsewhere. The 8th was fighting mainly with the 2nd Brigade.

What happened on the 16th of June describes itself best in pictures. But as there are no good scaled maps with the complete battlefield available, at least not with the old "Bois the Bossu (Forest of Bossu)" on it, I made some myself.

1: I started with the best-known topographical map of the area, which is also downloadable from the Napoleon Series Map Archives. Then I took a Google Earth screenshot of the same area and merge\ed both maps into one. I ended up with a perfect map, which included the Bois de Bossu.

The two maps in one.

2: To understand the situation and battle of the day better I worked together with Eric van Muilwijk, editor of the Waterloo Campaign 1815: The contribution of the Netherlands Mobile Army Website, who is doing research in the same area. I used his details for the more general parts of the battle, like timing and placing of units. His research is the best there is at the moment and all based on primary sources as well. I've seen or are familiar with most of these sources, so I am not afraid to state his details in the story below.

3: I also used many eye-witness accounts, both from soldiers from other units as well as the one from De Jongh himself to make it more specific for the 8th Militia (41, 74-82).

4: I also did an in-depth study in the type of forest as the Bois de Bossu was. The species and density in this forest was a crucial aspect not to forget. Strange enough this was never researched before. The forest consisted of beech and a few oaks here and there. These where of various ages as this was an very old (not planted) forest. Occasionally the local farmers were cutting firewood but because of the few people and farms around this was not much. Altogether that means we had a mix of old and young trees, open areas where trees were falling down, dense areas where young vegetation is coming up and park-like areas where old trees are standing. Old beech trees create a lot of shade and there is hardly any undergrowth in the area where old trees are growing. The forest edges where off course very dense with young trees, shrubs and weed. These must be difficult to pass (Source: discussion with University of Leuven and other experts).

5: To finalize the research I visited the site in the field and took one whole day to walk the old borders of the Bois the Bossu and to take pictures of the field from the different locations where the 8th Militia once stood. I also localized the locations of the different eyewitness accounts and the positions of De Jongh during the battle to check their story. The field is still in place, there is hardly anything changed nowadays except for the Bois de Bossu, which is now mostly a golf-course.

All this information is now coming together in the following simple maps and pictures:

Map 1 shows the situation between 0400 and 1330 hours on the 16th. Not much was happening. The 8th Militia was resting and eating just behind the village of Quatre Bras (only a few houses at that time). But at 1330 hours the French were approaching in a more detemined way. They were there for the whole day already, but had hesitated because the could not see much. Although the terrain look flat, this is actually not true, there are small rises and shallow areass where whole battalions could be hidden. That is what the Dutch Army actually did. So it was only at 1330 hours when the French decided to attack. The 8th Militia got orders to march to the South, together with other units.

Map 1
Map 1.

Map 2 Shows the positions at 1400 hours. The 8th, together with 3 other battalions took up positions on a small farm road, hidden from the French by a small hill around 1 kilometer more to the south. Some Dutch guns were in support.

Map 2
Map 2.

Map 3 shows a first attack by French lancers (Piré's Cavalry Division) at 1415 hours. The Allied battalions were moving back towards the woods. Also because they came under fire of French artillery, positioned on the hill mentioned earlier. It was during this bombardment that the first casualties were taken. The Flag platoon of the 8th received a direct hit, and Sergeant-Major Finson (holding the Flag) and Corporals Lansing and Martijn were seriously wounded (The sergeant-major received a 4th Class MWO Medal afterwards). Soon afterwards others were killed and wounded, in the 8th Militia as well as in the other battalions. A few minutes later Brigade orders were received to detach 2 companies (the 5th and 6th) to hold the woods that were jutting out to the easteast, while the remaining companies could go slightly backwards.

Map 3
Map 3.

Map 4 Shows the situation half an hour later at 1445. The battalions are pushed back by cavalry and skirmishers into the woods. The situation is also becoming dangerous as French troops are now appearing to the east side of the woods. The one Nassau battalion send there to hold the French is retreating. Nevertheless, the other battalions are now holding their line in a small valley inside the woods. There they are regrouping under the command of Colonel Saxen-Weimar, the brigade commander of the 2nd Brigade. The 8th Militia is now split up. The 5th and 6th Companies are forming part of the line of Saxe-Weimar inside the woods, the remaining 4 companies are almost on the east side of the woods.

Map 4
Map 4.

Map 5 Shows the counter-attack by Saxe-Weimars at 1500 hours, including the two detached companies of the 8th Militia. The French were now coming on in a thick skirmish line (the troops from Jêrome Bonaparte's Division) through the woods and therefore Saxe-Weimar decided to attack. This attack did not really failed or succeed, but it showed the French that there was still resistance in the woods. Meanwhile on the east side of the woods Luitenant-Kolonel De Jongh was holding back the approaching French from that side with his remaining 4 companies. But the French were bringing in artillery and soon afterwards the first casualties where taken, including De Jongh himself who was hit by a piece of a howitzer in his leg. He let himself be tied to the saddle and stayed in command. Now there was a lull in the fighting, where both sides where not doing much.

Map 5
Map 5.

Map 6 Shows the troops at 1615. A renewed French attack drives them further back through the woods. As the French cavalry is now everywhere on both sides of the wood most troops take refuge inside the woods and, while fighting, moving northwards to avoid encirclement.

Map 6
Map 6.

Map 7 Shows the counterattack at 1700 hours by the last two reserve battalions. These battalions where not engaged earlier and were thrown in as a last measure. The 8th Militia is now back at Quatre-Bras, together with most of the other battalions. They are probably exhausted, hungry, and without ammunition after 5 hours of fighting. Besides this the formation of the units was in chaos after the fighting in the woods.

Map 7
Map 7.

Map 8 shows the situation at 1800 hours when the 3rd British/Hanover division has arrived in the woods. They are launching a strong counterattack along the whole line from east to west on the battlefield. That counter-attack results the French being thrown back to their original morning positions. The 8th is still re-grouping at that time.

Map 8
Map 8.

The 8th Militia B Casualties at Quatre Bras:

Killed: NCOs & Enlisted: 4. (Korporals Stroebel & Huibers, Private sHoltzwilders and Stankowitz)
Wounded Officers: 2 (de Jongh and Wilson, the Medical officer)
Wounded NCOs and Enlisted: 34.
Captured or Missing: NCOs and Enlisted: 3
Lost Material: 28 Muskets, 16 Bullet bags, 7 sabres.
Ammunition Expended: 9,650 rounds. (When divided by 561 men, an average of 17 rounds per soldier. They were certainly in the middle of the fight!) (14, 15)

Total 8th Militia Casualties at Quatre Bras: 41 (killed, wounded, missing and captured) (Some will return to the unit later).

16th of June: The battle of Quatre Bras; pictures of battlefield today

I also shot some pictures for a better understanding of the terrain. Click on the map below to see a picture.

Foto's To the South-West, along march road East, towards Quatre Bras village Panorama picture; Towards the south and east East along road South South South, standing on the golf course South, standing on the golf course South-West, looking up hill. Imagine that this was forest! Panorama picture; North, North-East. In the middle of the picture, in the far distance Gemiencourt farm.

    Picture 1 is taken to the southwest, along the rough farm track where the 8th Militia was marching to their first positions.

    Picture 2 shows the possible field were the 8th Militia encamped (without tents) on the night before the battle.

    Picture 3 is a panorama picture displaying the fields in the south and east, in the direction where the forest once was.

    Picture 4 is taken in northeast direction along the farm road. This was the first position of the 27th Jagers.

    Picture 5 shows the location of the 5 & 6th Companies of the 8th, defending that small part of the forest.

    Picture 6 is an important one. This was the exact location where the battalion stood (see Map 2) when they came under attack for the first time. You can see the view they had on the low hill in front of them where the French were positioning artillery.

    Picture 7 is taken in a southern direction and is showing the view the 8th had at 1415 hours (see Map 3) when they were threatened by cavalry and hit by artillery rounds.

    Picture 8 is also taken in a southern direction, in the middle of the woods, which is now the golf course. The 8th was slowly retreating through these positions between 1415 and 1445 hours.

    Picture 9 is the location where Saxe-Weimar gathered his units, plus the 5 & 6th Companies of the 8th Militia, for the counter-attack at 1500 hours. They attacked uphill!

    Picture 10 is a Panorama picture looking north and northeast. In the middle of the picture, in the far distance Gemiencourt farm.

17 June: the March to Waterloo

After the battle, the battalion slept on the battlefield, in the shelter of the woods near Quatre Bras. At 0400 hours on the 17th, the 5 and 6 Companies were back from their detachment duties. At 1000 hours the whole 2nd Division gathered together Genappe and Quatre Bras. The battalion left at 1400 hours from Genappe, to march to Waterloo. It is a 23 kilometer walk to the brigade deployment sector near Waterloo and it must have taken the battalion about 6 hours to reach Waterloo. The weather was terrible, the whole afternoon and night of the 17th the rain was very heavy. The battalion did not get any supplies of food because the wagons were lost in the chaos of a retreating army. They did receive more ammunition (8, 41, 74-82).



Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2008

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